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Mitt Romney scores $10 million in Vegas telethon

May 16, 2011|By Kim Geiger and Stephen Ceasar | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images )

Reporting from Las Vegas — The venue and approach were about as far removed from Mitt Romney’s straight-laced, wealthy persona as could be, but that didn’t stop about 800 volunteers from gathering in a deserted wing of the Las Vegas Convention Center early Monday to participate in the first major telethon of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign.

Supporters of the former Massachusetts governor spent the day huddled around phones as they asked friends, family and business associates to make donations. They raised $10.25 million, according to the campaign.  

“I’m calling raising funds for Mitt Romney for president,” one volunteer said over his cellphone as he tried to reach a potential donor. “Tell him it won’t take but a second to get his credit card number.”

“I’m taking your political pulse this morning,” he said to another. “How are you feeling?”

The telethon, a reprise of one Romney staged in his unsuccessful 2008 campaign, is meant to highlight the frontrunner’s financial strength in a location in which he has staked much prestige – Nevada, one of the key early primary states in 2012.

Some supporters had been lining up donations in advance of the event. On Monday morning, they were instructed -- by Cindy Crawford, via video -- on how to turn pledges into actual dollars by using software that allowed them to process credit cards from iPhones and other devices.

“The strength of our call day is that each one of these individuals represents their own network,” said Romney advisor Spencer Zwick, who touted the campaign’s unorthodox approach of relying on volunteers to supply their own call lists.  

That format more closely resembled a public display of bundling -- a widely used fundraising tactic of deploying a small group of well-connected supporters to reel in contributions from a broader base of donors -- rather than traditional phone-banking, where volunteers call donors from lists supplied by a campaign.

The event also highlighted the awkward business of financing a presidential run.  

Inside the convention hall, a constellation of land-line-equipped red, white and blue tables encircled a small stage. Giant American flags and television screens loomed overhead. Food stands were tucked inconspicuously into corners of the room.    

“In true Romney fashion, we’re asking them to pay for lunch themselves,” spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said.  

Volunteers had traveled to Vegas at their own expense to experience what Fehrnstrom called an “esprit des corps.” 

But many seemed more comfortable placing calls on personal cellphones from hallways and secluded corners, pacing with phone to ear, call list in hand.

In 2007, Romney packed a Boston convention hall with about 400 supporters who raised $6.5 million in donations and pledges in a similar daylong phone-banking effort. Romney raised a total of $21 million that quarter.  

Matt LeBretton, 36, of Boston came with his wife, Michelle, who is pregnant with their third child. 

They called family friends and business associates. “Most of them are already supporters,” she said.  

Michelle LeBretton's calls weren’t going so well, but her husband had been more successful.  He’d secured “a couple dozen” donations, from $25 to the maximum, $2,500.

LeBretton works for an athletic apparel company. He said he called people that “in the past have said good things about Mitt.”

kim.geiger@latimes.com

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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